For all my faith, two questions continue to haunt me.

I remember driving through rural Georgia in the late 1960s. This was the Deep South, where religion was as ubiquitous as fried food and high-school football, and occasionally I saw on a highway bridge or railroad trestle a zealot’s hand-painted advertisement for God: “Jesus Is Coming Soon—Are You Ready?” or, “The Wages of Sin Is Death.”

But already the smart-alecky spirit of the sixties had infiltrated the Bible Belt. On a large boulder, beneath the message, “Jesus Is the Answer,” someone had scrawled, “So What’s the Question?”

That roadside message stuck with me, and I later saw it appearing on placards and bumper stickers. The graffitist may have intended only an irreverent joke, but he or she had identified the crux of Christian apologetics. In many parts of the country, the church was losing ground because it was giving answers to questions people were no longer asking, and not giving answers to questions they were asking.

Since that day, and especially during times of discouragement and doubt, I have asked myself the question scrawled on that rock.

So what is the question Jesus provides the answer to, for me? Am I hanging onto faith out of habit, like a regional accent I grew up with and can’t seem to shed? Or does Jesus indeed provide the answer to some fundamental question of my existence?

Most of my own doubts, I have learned, circle around two questions: Do I matter? and Does God care? These are the watersheds of my faith. If Jesus is the answer for me, then he must somehow speak to those two questions.

As I stand in the cashier line of the Safeway supermarket, I look around me. I see teenagers with shaved heads and nose rings; a yuppie buying one steak, a few twigs ...

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